Security and Privacy in 2019

In the future I believe we'll look back on 2018/2019 and see a moment of pivotal change with regards to online security and privacy. In this short article I want to highlight three recent news stories showing issues around security and privacy. It's estimated that 45% of the total world population are using social networks, which is a high percentage as 57% of the total world population use the internet. In America 88% of American 18 to 29-year-olds use social media (source).

It's true to say that social media dominates our time online, and has become invasive in many areas of life online and offline. With regards to intervention, one year on GDPR has issued fines totalling €56,000,000. Twitter and LinkedIn are under investigation, and recently Ireland's Data Protection Commission launched a probe in to Google over the way it uses personal data to provide targeted advertising (source). The technology giants under close scrutiny (source).

Targeted Advertising

After the 2016 UK European Union membership referendum and the 2016 US presidential election, it was brought to the world's attention that Social Media was being used to great effect to manipulate people. Pioneering journalists like Carole Cadwalladr took time to investigate the level of manipulation, as highlighted in her TED talk.

Many users didn't mind having targeted advertising about shoes or TVs, but political targeted advertising is different. Using personal data points, collected from an online survey, Cambridge Analytica was able to target people based on their current political views, in the hope of persuading them to vote differently. Facebook's design allowed this "survey" app not only to collect the personal information of people who agreed to take the survey, but also the personal information of all the people in those users' Facebook social network (source).

Astonishingly, Cambridge Analytica claimed in 2017 that it has psychological profiles of 220 million US citizens based on 5,000 separate data sets (source). Not only were people's opinions being used against them, but also their friendship network data was being harvested too. This recent BBC documentary reveals what goes on in Facebook offices around the world with a peak into their international growth.

In March 2018 Facebook experienced a $37 billion drop in the market capitalization (source). In July 2019 US regulators approved a record $5bn (£4bn) fine on Facebook following an investigation into data privacy violations (source). In response, some users have decided to close their Facebook account, but this isn't enough. Users need to have higher expectations of these Silicon Valley giants, and in fact all companies that collect and share personal data. Government intervention is already on the horizon, with potential new policies and laws (source). Bizarley Mark Zuckerberg, from Facebook, has called for governments to play a more active role in establishing rules to control the internet (source).

Changes are already afoot in the UK. After much chasing, the government finally managed to meet with Mark Zuckerberg (source) to discuss the government's forthcoming plans to tighten online security (source). Alternatively, Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center, has recently proposed the idea of an Internet Court, to globally govern and control online content. 2020 will likely bring big changes with regards to government intervention and state control - which will force companies like Facebook and Twitter to comply.


The big tech giant Apple has taken a different approach to security and privacy. They've chosen to double their efforts in protecting users and their associated data. iOS12 already has a good reputation for security and privacy (source). iOS13 will be released later this year, and it brings a bunch of new security and privacy features (source). You'll see reminders on your phone about location sharing, finer Bluetooth controls, Apple 'Sign In' features, blocking callers, disguising photo metadata and limiting browser tracking (source).

In was revealed in July 2019 that Zoom, the video call application, had a major security flaw on Macs (source). It took Zoom 105 days to act, but Apple was able to adjust it's inbuilt malware tool in just 1 day to address the issue. Apple offers other tools such as Gatekeeper, sandboxed apps, Flash disabled by default and a new T2 security chip.

"We build privacy into everything we do, and iOS 13 is no different." Apple (source)

Apple's not perfect, but it's clear that security and privacy is a high priority for them. This is a trend I hope other technology companies will adopt.

Facial Recognition

Since 2017 UK Police have used facial recognition software 6 times at important events (source). Police trials have been backed by the home secretary (source), but some MPs call for a halt to the police's use of live facial recognition (source). The city of San Francisco has already barred the use of automatic facial recognition by law enforcement (source).

A recent test of Amazon’s cloud facial recognition software found that it falsely identified 28 members of US Congress as criminals, with members of the Congressional Black Caucus disproportionately represented. Technology is far from perfect, and needs clear laws as to how and when it can be used. Closer to home, FaceApp, an iPhone and Android phone app, has been giving people the ability to change their facial expressions, looks, and now age. It's T&Cs allow it to use pictures — and names — for any purpose it wishes, for as long as it desires (source).

You might end up on a billboard somewhere in Moscow, but your face will most likely end up training some AI facial-recognition algorithm. Peter Kostadinov

Phones apps have access to some much personal data, even data we're not aware of. Operating systems need to help us understand the data we're inadvertently sharing, and apps need to be more transparent about data collection and usage.

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